Over the course of a two-hour regional championship match against Rangely in Dolores on Saturday, the Dolores High School volleyball team delivered one of its finest performances of the season and earned the respect of home and visiting fans alike.
A win was not to be for the Lady Bears, however, who, despite fighting back from a two-set deficit, fell just short in a 20-25, 20-25, 25-20, 25-21, 15-11 loss to Rangely. The loss ended a 22-match Dolores winning streak and marked just the second in a season in which the Lady Bears captured a San Juan Basin League title and district championship.
Looking nervous and tentative throughout the opening set of the championship match, Dolores fell behind 5-0 after a series of poor passes and unforced hitting errors. Although the Lady Bears eventually found their form and tied the set at 8-8, hitting errors continued to plague Dolores throughout the set, which ended with a tip by Rangely senior Katelyn Brown.
Seemingly back in sync at the beginning of the second set, Dolores benefited from several hard kills by sophomore Jordan Elder, whose ability to send hard shots down the line continually stressed the Rangely defense.
After a great left-handed tip by Elder put the Lady Bears ahead 15-10, Rangely regained its form thanks to senior Sarah Conner, who smashed down several hard kills to help her team build an 18-17 lead and force a Dolores timeout.
Although the Lady Bears scored out of the timeout to tie the score at 18-18, Rangely secured the last five points of the game, including a set clinching kill by Conner to move within one set of the regional championship.
Like good teams tend to do however, Dolores fought back with vigor and began the third set on a 7-0 run, which culminated with a massive block and subsequent scream by junior Tatum Majors and a Rangely timeout.
Three impressive blocks by senior Cameron Elder later in the third set further energized the hometown team and helped Dolores eventually win the set on a well-placed kill by senior Sierra Schwartz.
“We just have so much heart and passion for the game of volleyball,” said Cameron Elder, when asked about her team’s turnaround. “We’ve been playing since we were little, and we just want it so bad. We can play through God and for God, and that has been our motivation all season.”
Still needing to win the fourth set to even the score, Dolores pulled ahead 10-5 early. A series of passing errors by the Lady Bears allowed Rangely to climb back into the set, however, and with just a few points to go, Dolores found itself leading 22-21.
At that point, senior Sierra Schwartz brought Dolores fans to their feet with a perfectly placed kill that dropped in the middle of three Ridgway defenders and a second kill that caromed out of bounds of Rangely blockers.
Noise in the Dolores gym further amplified when a Rangely hitting error allowed the Lady Bears to win the fourth set and with the match even at two sets a piece and music blaring over the loud speakers, Dolores players smiled and danced.
“When there is a loud crowd, it makes it more intense,” Cameron Elder said. “There is an energy, and we can feed off of that, which is really helpful.”
Knowing that a fifth-set victory would deliver them to the state tournament for the first time since 2014, Dolores pulled ahead 1-0 on a hitting error by Rangely outside hitter Sarah Conner.
A series of passing miscues put the Lady Bears behind 2-7, however, and although Dolores eventually narrowed the gap to 11-13, the set never seemed in reach and ended when Connor smashed down a hard kill to finish things off.
With the majority of Dolores’ players in tears shortly after the match, several members of the crowd exchanged hugs and shouted encouragement to their hometown team, which became a fan favorite over the course of the season.
Because Dolores failed to win regionals, the team will not earn one of eight guaranteed spots in the state tournament. Athletic Director Chris Trusler said that the Lady Bears could still qualify for one of four at-large bids, however, which are awarded based on strength of schedule and other factors. Dolores will learn if it received one of the four at-large bids on Nov. 6.
“I think we deserve to (go to state) because we have shown our worth on the court,” Cameron Elder said. “We have won against so many teams, and we’re a very versatile team. We have the heart, and we have the skill, and we want (to go to state) more than anything.”